“It truly is what you dream about — how do you come together as a group and achieve something that is hard and so fragile and so tough to do? That’s what makes championships so special and great,” said Feigin during Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon this week.
Now, with the 2021 preseason less than a month away, the Bucks organization is riding the wave out of a financially devastating year for live sports and entertainment nationally– and setting priorities for how to best leverage its success, both on and off the court.
On the business side, ticket sales for the upcoming season are back up to 2019-20 levels, a recovery Feigin considers “astronomical” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on the industry. Comparatively, he said, the majority of the NBA’s 30 teams are “probably really struggling” to make up ticket sales after the pandemic’s shut down.
Coming off a momentous championship season, continuing to build brand recognition is key. During the NBA Finals, said Feigin, the Bucks were the “no. 1 digital product in pro sports for two weeks,” and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo secured the no. 2 spot on the NBA’s most popular jersey list. That level of brand awareness is a stark contrast from where it was when the team was purchased by its current owners.
“Six years ago I would go to a hundred meetings and tell them what are our story is and what our vision is and what we think we’ll do,” he said. “Now we explain, by the way, we’re the NBA champions. It’s a different way to introduce yourself.”
As the Bucks build a fan base that extends globally as much as it does nationally, Milwaukee stands to benefit from having its name attached to a global brand. As “an extension of the city of Milwaukee,” the Bucks have an opportunity to help “sell the city” to sponsorship partners, convention and event planners, and visitors. That’s often through access to players or the team’s state-of-art arena, and in the long run, it’s all about developing a destination.
The Deer District drew tens of thousands of fans each game night during the NBA playoffs, capturing the attention of the national media. An estimated 65,000 fans packed the public plaza and portions of the adjacent empty lots to watch the Bucks win Game 6 of the NBA Finals – in addition to the 17,000 people inside Fiserv Forum. Crowds that massive were unexpected and have the Bucks “re-evaluating” their original development plans for the available land on the 30-acre Deer District site, said Feigin.
He didn’t disclose specifics but said the Bucks are working with the City of Milwaukee and its Common Council to “figure out the balance” between developed space and public space, and account for changes such as the forthcoming expansion of the Wisconsin Center.
“The world has changed dramatically in the five years since we submitted a general plan design (for the Deer District),” he said. “We’ve started to look at what might be pivots or changes because our way of living has changed, our transit has change, our buildings in the city of Milwaukee has changed in terms of commercial inventory and residential inventory.”
At least one development project is moving forward in the Deer District. The Trade Milwaukee, a 205-room boutique hotel is set to break ground Sept. 17, said Feigin on Wednesday. The nine-story Marriott International Autograph Collection hotel will be built directly north of Fiserv Forum, at the corner of Juneau and Vel R. Phillips avenues and is slated to open in early 2023.
The Bucks have previously said that the Trade would be the first of two hotel properties they’d like to develop in the Deer District. The other would likely take over a portion of the former Bradley Center site, south of Fiserv Forum.